As Dhoni gets slower, time to test Pant ahead of World Cup

KEEP­ING CO­NUN­DRUM With Karthik too fail­ing to score, play­ing Pant as bats­man could be an op­tion

Hindustan Times (Noida) - - HTSPORT - SOMSHUVRA LAHA

DE­SPITE scor­ing a fifty in his first com­pet­i­tive game in over two months, MS Dhoni is the ele­phant in the room In­dia needs to ad­dress soon be­fore its domino ef­fect is felt in the World Cup this May. Dhoni came out on Satur­day in the fourth over with In­dia chas­ing 288. The equa­tion was still in favour of In­dia. Even if Aus­tralia bowl well — which they did — a sub-300 to­tal can never get too out of hand for the best chasers in the game.

Dhoni tak­ing up 36 balls to score just six was still par for the course given the dis­ci­plined bowl­ing that forced Ro­hit Sharma to con­sume 18 balls to get off the mark. In­dia were in dire need of a part­ner­ship and Dhoni played his part. But un­like Sharma, Dhoni couldn’t find the next gear to guide In­dia to the fin­ish. This begs the ques­tion why In­dia must in­sist on pro­ject­ing Dhoni as an in­dis­pens­able part of the World Cup plans when cal­i­bre play­ers like Rishabh Pant and Man­ish Pandey are warm­ing the bench. Farokh En­gi­neer pitched the same ques­tion last week.

Sev­eral rea­sons are cited in Dhoni’s favour. What­ever Dhoni the wicket-keeper lacks in tech­nique, he com­pen­sates by think­ing on his feet. He rarely lunges to his left but can be the brain that drives the team. Lastly, vic­tory is al­most cer­tain when Dhoni is at the crease. Not any­more.

Pant is a rapidly im­prov­ing wicket-keeper who can blast any bowl­ing at­tack. At 21, fit­ness is not an is­sue for him. Vi­rat Kohli’s cre­den­tials as cap­tain too has re­ceived a mas­sive boost and with Ro­hit Sharma as vice-cap­tain, In­dia look smart on field. With the emer­gence of Am­bati Rayudu, Kedar Jad­hav and Man­ish Pandey, In­dia don’t have to de­pend solely on Dhoni to fin­ish matches.

And so good has In­dia’s bat­ting been that Dhoni was not needed to come out in seven of the last 21 ODIS, be­gin­ning with the South Africa tour. That means ev­ery fail­ure by Dhoni is bound to be dis­sected more crit­i­cally now on, es­pe­cially in the World Cup year. Syd­ney was the first for this year though it didn’t seem headed that way.

Dhoni was al­ways a big pro­po­nent of graft­ing till the re­quired run rate was un­der con­trol. On Satur­day how­ever, Dhoni fell short of his own stan­dards. Never re­ally a sweet timer of the ball, he strug­gled to pierce the gaps in Syd­ney. Case in point was the maiden bowled by Nathan Lyon where Dhoni skipped out ev­ery ball only to prod at it. Any other bats­man — Pant or even Pandey — would have had bet­ter suc­cess in milk­ing some­one who went for 50 runs from 10 overs.

By the time he was ad­judged leg be­fore, Dhoni looked as tired as some­one who had been play­ing non-stop for two months. Only he hasn’t. New bats­man Di­nesh Karthik was ex­pected to ac­cel­er­ate but poor shot se­lec­tion meant his last fifty still came 15 months back. Punt­ing on two wicket-keep­ers whose pri­mary job isn’t keep­ing wicket doesn’t look to be a great idea.

There will be some time to im­prove if Aus­tralia and New Zealand don’t go ac­cord­ing to plan.

Pitches will be flat and bound­aries will be small dur­ing the lim­ited-overs se­ries against Aus­tralia at home next month. And then there is IPL. Law of av­er­ages say Dhoni should come to his el­e­ments again one day. But it won’t be a bad idea for In­dia to see if Pant fits in their scheme of things.

AFP

Ma­hen­dra Singh Dhoni, who took 36 balls to get to six runs, could not find the next gear un­like Ro­hit Sharma and take In­dia past the fin­ish­ing line on Satur­day af­ter both were off to slow starts.

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